The influence and impacts of dyslexia on social work practice

An exploration
Published in Student research on 18 Aug 2021

Summary of the research

The role of a social worker is dynamic and complex in supporting individuals, families and communities. Therefore, the interventions required are wide ranging and involve many skills, such as assessment, reading and writing. All these skills can be impacted by the condition of dyslexia. 

A general literature review highlighted that there is an absence of an agreed definition of dyslexia. This impacts workplace relationships and support (Fitzgibbon and O’Conner, 2002). Secondly, dyslexia is not fully understood theoretically or in practice (Moody, 2010). Thirdly, despite an increased interest in the field of dyslexia within research literature, there is a gap in research surrounding the impacts and influences on social workers and their day-to-day practice.

The findings are based on ten semi-structured interviews of qualified social workers, working throughout Scotland and who work in local authority and third sector services. The study explored individual experiences of how dyslexia impacts and influences their practice. This included an exploration of the support they received and what they thought could be done differently in the future.


Findings highlighted that there was a lack of understanding of dyslexia. Participants consistently reported that their initial understanding of dyslexia was based on negative connotations and stereotypes: dyslexia meant you were slow or lacking intelligence. Participants related these initial negative connotations to ideas they had encountered earlier in life. As a result, they illustrated how societal views around dyslexia could impact a dyslexic person’s perception of their condition. 

Furthermore, participants described challenges and frustrations surrounding their current situations, including the inability to express their knowledge, the speed of information processing, their experiences of their challenges and other people’s attitudes. Some participants experienced exhaustion because of the impact of dyslexia.

The challenges had various and numerous impacts on social work practice. These included the inability to recall information or instructions received, such as when on a duty call or in a meeting, some of which was exasperated by using virtual platforms because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and name recall. Some ethical dilemmas occurred because of the challenges with short-term memory.

McLoughlin and Leather (2015) argue that organisations have taken a positive approach to support those with dyslexia in the workplace. However, the majority of participants highlighted that workplace support was very minimal. Some felt this was adequate for their needs, whereas others felt they needed more but were not sure what support was available. The support experienced in the workplace was practical (e.g. reading software, different coloured paper or overlays, one-to-one administration support). Little emotional support was offered.

In summary, the findings indicated that participants had a positive association with their dyslexia, recognising their strengths and being aware of the challenges, as well as a range of personal strategies to mitigate these. However, there was less clarity about employers and managers' understanding and knowledge to support practitioners.

Completed: May 2021.

About the author

Sam Hepburn has lived in Scotland all her life. Having completed an undergraduate in childhood and youth studies she went on to study a Masters' in Social Work at the University of Edinburgh. 

Sam holds her own diagnosis of dyslexia and has lived with the stigma of poor academic performance, which is associated with dyslexia  It was not until she failed an essay in her Masters that she realised the stigma was still impacting her academically. She set about changing that, going on to achieve a Masters with distinction and bringing her learning to the workplace. Sam continues to influence understanding of dyslexia and how it's supported in social work practice. 

Copyright © 2021 Sam Hepburn. All rights reserved. The author has given permission for this work to be downloaded and shared in the attached format for educational purposes only. For other permissions, please contact the author.